Skip to main content

Peru: Lying awake listening

Publication date

The shop may be small but it's beautifully kept with its smart red and blue tins of sardines and tuna neatly displayed and turned and lined up correctly on the shelves. Through the back and up a dark ladder are the family rooms, behind these a small platform balcony. This is the shop and home of Luis Mamani Paredes and his family. It stands precariously, in a row of similar homes and businesses, next to a gully.

"We have a hard time in the rainy season. All of a sudden there can be a storm in the hills at any time and you never get any warning. Sometimes, even when the sun is out, way up in the hills it's raining and all of a sudden water comes rushing down. It's very dangerous and people can be dragged away in the current, animals are often swept away.

"I've lived here 30 years and a lot of water comes down every year. The water comes down like a snake curving out of the gully. There's a lot of noise. You can't sleep at night because you're lying awake listening. In this street, and in my home, we just don't know where we can escape to, because we have the river and we have the gully...we're trapped between, we're closed in and there's a lot of water coming down. There's nothing much that I, or my family, can do since we've nowhere else we can go."

Sabina Soncco

A few doors down Sabina Soncco lives with her three children and her husband who is sick.

"When the water is high you can't even sleep. It's very frightening, especially when there's a lot of rain, like in February...I just want to run away. I just think, 'Where can I go?' But I don't because my children and all my things are here. The last time it happened was last year. All the water came down with papaya trees and other things...that's what really frightened me. After about an hour the water went down, it always goes down, but it's very frightening when it's so high.

"Every year it varies. It depends on the amount of rain, sometimes there's a lot and sometimes there's not so much. We just have to see what happens. I stay here because... well, where else can I go? If I could I would go somewhere else."

Between a rock and a hard place

Without a doubt the people of Sandia, in the Puno district in Peru, live between a rock and a hard place. Squashed in a valley between steep mountains, the town is bordered by a river on one side and a gully on the other. During the rainy season the town is vulnerable to flooding and flash floods. The surrounding mountains pose further dangers of rock falls and land slides.

Between November and February, Sandia, and other towns in the river basin, face considerable risks that threaten lives, homes and livelihoods. Oxfam is working in partnership with local organisation PREDES, assisting the communities facing these multiple hazards. One of the activities is to train 60 young volunteers in disaster risk reduction, leadership, gender and rights so that by the end of the programme they will be an established group.

The Jovos

Meeting the Jovos (the Spanish acronym for young volunteers for disaster prvention) is a highlight of visiting the programme in the Sandia River Basin. It would be hard to find a more enthusiastic group of people - bright, lively, eager and committed.